Children’s attention span ‘shorter than ever’ since Covid crisis, say teachers in England

Most primary schoolteachers think children’s attention spans are getting shorter and classroom behaviour has deteriorated since before the Covid pandemic, a survey has found.

More than two in three (70%) teachers questioned said pupils’ behaviour in class had declined. Children were more likely to move around the room, complain about being bored and annoy or provoke others in the classroom, the poll showed.

The survey of 504 primary and early years teachers in schools in England by the online subject resource Kapow Primary found that 84% agreed that children’s attention span was “shorter than ever” post-Covid. Nearly two-thirds (69%) had noticed an increase in inattention and daydreaming.

Tiffnie Harris, a primary and data specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said the findings reflected the challenging behaviour school leaders were reporting.

“There seems to be a long-term impact of the disruption of the pandemic to normal routines and expectations,” she said. “On top of this is the rising incidence of mental health and wellbeing problems among children, which is exacerbated by the impact of the cost of living crisis on families and the pressures created by social media.”

Harris urged the government to do much more to understand the problems around behaviour and provide more investment and support to schools and families.

The survey also found teachers were adapting lessons to accommodate short attention spans, with one in five reporting that they spent less than 10 minutes on average on any single activity. More than four in five (85%) thought the “ever-swiping nature of social media” had negatively affected pupils.

One year five and six teacher working at a Derbyshire primary school said: “Behaviour in class is very different post-Covid. We had to teach the children through a screen during the pandemic but taking the screen away now has had a massive impact.

“Daydreaming is a big issue for us, as is helping children relearn some of their social skills. Little things like turn-taking got lost during Covid. We also have to do a lot more movement breaks to avoid the children from tuning out.”

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Another teacher, who works in east London, said pupils’ conduct in assemblies was a particular problem: “Some have lost the ability to sit as part of a large audience and focus on a message being shared with the whole school.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our approach to tackling behaviour in schools has been to support schools to develop a behaviour culture that works for them, their pupils, and their communities.

“We have updated our behaviour in schools’ guidance to provide clear advice on how to create and maintain high standards and our £10m behaviour hubs programme is supporting up to 700 schools to improve behaviour.”

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